Having grown up in the design / print business, I started Powers Design in 1987. We specialize in print production and design with an eye to creating great design without causing havoc when it hits the presses.
Because of my wide-ranging production background, I had to make up my own tips and tricks to produce first-class design with tight deadlines and often not the best of resources.
If I didn’t know how to do it – I’d figure it out somehow. Software is smart, but years of hands-on experience allowed me to make the software work for me.
Because of my extensive production background and years of design experience, I have been able to make software work for me by creating my own shortcuts, tips and tricks to produce first-class design – that works – in print and on the screen.
After 25 years of helping clients design everything from print materials to trade show graphics to web sites, I thought it would be fun to share some of the more practical design and production tips, tricks or shortcuts that I’ve used time and again. My clients keep telling me that my solutions save them time and make them more efficient and they can do the same for you.
I’ll be posting a new Powers Tip every month or so. Many are shortcuts that you can use over and over so be sure to keep them on file for when you most need them. Our goal is to make your job less stressful and your life a bit easier and who doesn’t want that!
A graphic design firm specializing in print and digital media. Clients come to us for creative solutions, immediate personal attention and competitive pricing.
PowerPoint is NOT your printer’s friend.
I can’t tell you how many times a printer has contacted me for help with a client’s project at the last minute. A brochure or flyer needs to be printed for a trade show the next day, and the printer is handed a PowerPoint file to print from.
PowerPoint is for on-screen presentations – think Oscar for Best Film / Presentation. It’s wonderful. Lots of colors, fonts, the ability to animate, etc. But it’s not for printing.
PowerPoint has no way of allowing a printer to color separate the colors for offset printing. You can’t specify PMS or process colors. Your choices are what PowerPoint has within its software – that’s it. There is nowhere to specify bleeds, spec custom sizes, or take into consideration folds.
So if you need to print a flyer or brochure, create it with the proper software – QuarkXpress or InDesign.
You’ll keep your costs down, and you’ll have a better chance of your piece being properly printed, on time and on budget.
Small things can make a big difference in the way you are perceived in the marketplace.
There’s no excuse, in this day and age and with today’s technology – to send anything with typos! Be it Twitter, Facebook, an email to a friend or heaven forbid – a business correspondence.
That thin red line appearing under some of the copy you’re typing is trying to tell you – check the spelling!
If you can’t figure out the correct spelling, look it up on your computer dictionary (you know you have one, right?), or online (you’re probably already connected), or if you can’t find the correct spelling, choose a different word. A thesaurus can be your best friend! When in doubt, look it up!
Typos make you look careless, lazy and, yes, dumb.
The same goes for common mistakes between “to”, too” and “two”; ” your” and “you’re”; ‘”where” and “wear” (sometimes incorrectly written as “were”); “it’s” and its”; “there” and “their.” The list goes on and on. For tricky phrases, use your trusty Strunk and White, which will help you correct mistakes that spellcheck will not pick up. To be taken seriously as a professional, you need to act and look like one
Source Files – Glitches and Fixes.
Here’s a common problem I run into.
My client asks me to create new brochure, website, business card, ad, whatever. I ask for their logo and often receive a Word file with the logo in it. This wastes my time and their money because this is not a “source” file. I need the file from the original source (probably an EPS, PDF or TIFF format) which you received from the designer who designed it. I should mention here that it is not my job to go on a hunting trip to track down your sources files unless you want to pay me to do so.
Maybe the client has it, maybe the client has it somewhere but can’t find it, maybe the client forgot where it came from, etc. It’s not unusual for me to be up against a deadline (more on this in a future tip), critical time is ticking away and the client starts to hyperventilate.
I now tell woozy client to take a few deep breaths because though it takes a bit of time and work there are a couple of ways I can “create” a source
Here’s how I do it:
- Copy the image from the file my client sent you,
- Open Photoshop.
- Create a new document.
- Paste the image.
- Convert colors to what I need (CMYK, RGB, etc.)
- Now I have a source file! It’s cheating a bit- but it works!
Another idea: Designers should check out their client’s web site. Look for a PDF you can download; maybe from their annual report or a newsletter. Open the page of the PDF containing the logo in Photoshop, and crop out everything else and save!
Easy as pie – creating your own source file when you don’t have the original one.
“It’s not personal, it’s only business”
(from The Godfather)
Often, when I present a client with design choices, I’ll be asked my opinion about them or asked which design I like best. And I’ll give them my preference – but I usually add, “Hey, it’s your opinion that really counts here. You’ve got to love it, because it’s yours.”
The look, the message, the design is supposed to represent the client, not promote the designer. The design has to achieve whatever the client has in mind, not promote the designer.
Sure, I can give my opinion and tell you why, but you don’t have to choose what I choose. And maybe the client shouldn’t choose what I prefer because it may not have captured the nuance the client is looking for.
I’ve had many wonderful clients who were too shy to say which design elements they liked and which they didn’t. Vague feedback isn’t helpful. A designer has to be persistent to find out what’s working and what isn’t (e.g., is it color, font, images, layout, etc.) The best feedback you can give your designer is constructive, informative and very specific.
Sometimes I’ve been tempted to use the above quote from The Godfather. Don’t worry about hurting my feelings. Design is subjective. There is no right and therefore, no wrong. There is only what works for you, the client.
Remember: you’ve hired me to do something for you and your company. You need to own it, and you need to believe in it.
Print smarts for the web. Design, color & type.
Your website is your virtual brochure, resume, portfolio. It’s your 24 / 7 presence in the business world.
This is your opportunity to outshine the competition, to inform the visitor as to who you are and what you do. But here is where many web sites display a rookie mistake. Just because you CAN display every little thing about your client on a web site doesn’t mean you SHOULD display every little detail. The goal is to draw the viewer in with eye-catching / eye-friendly design – not to drown someone with enough data to fill a doctoral dissertation. Keep it simple.
It should be easy to navigate, easy to read and appealing to the eye. Leave the videos for the family outings – your visitors have stopped by to learn more about you, your products, your services.
No dark background with white serif type – unless you want visitors to move on to the next web site that pops up in the Google search. If I have to squint – I’m not going to read it. And yes – the population is getting older and we’re all headed in the same direction. But this doesn’t mean that your website should resemble a Dick and Jane book with huge san serif type. My point: think print before your set your web!
And chill out with the fancy flash. I’m looking for something on your web site and don’t want to have to wear a seatbelt to find it!
A single space is the difference between an excellent secretary and a professional typesetter.
If you took typing in school – you know that there was ALWAYS two spaces after a period. What developed into a habit – now is hard to break as a professional designer and typesetter.
The two space rule was when we were using typewriters with monospaced fonts. Having two spaces after a period helped the reader easily distinguish sentences.
Now with computers and so many fonts available we only need one space because the fonts are proportional. The one space enables the eye to more easily read a paragraph.
ALWAYS – one space after a period. It’s what sets a knowledgeable designer apart from the rest.
Use the right software to get the right results.
All software is not created equal. Software is created for particular tasks. Know what they are and you won’t run into trouble.
- Microsoft Word – word processing
- Adobe InDesign and QuarkXpress – page layout design for brochures and multi-page documents
- Adobe Illustrator and Freehand – creating vector files for logos, large format print designs
- Adobe Photoshop – photo editing, getting rid of “red eye”, creating collages, special effects, etc.
- Microsoft PowerPoint – on-screen presentations and some animation
- Microsoft Excel – spreadsheet program with the capability to create charts and graphs that can be imported into most other software layouts
- Don’t use Illustrator to design a booklet or newsletter. Illustrator is an illustrating, creative software.
- Don’t use Word to design your annual report. Word is an amazing word processing software – it’s not design software. Yes – you can sort of design some things with it. But remember once the file has left your computer, there is no way to control what it will look like and produce on someone else’s system or printer. It will most likely default to their fonts and parameters – often with disastrous results.
Spec Work – It’s Bad for Business and Bad Business
Over the years I have sometimes found myself in a situation where a potential client asks me to design something on spec. What is usually happening here is either that I have not done a sufficient job of showcasing my expertise and track record or the client is unsure of what he or she is looking for, unclear on the goal they want to achieve and that by window-shopping those answers will magically appear.
There are two approaches to turning this situation around. The first is to gently but firmly clarify that we’re in the idea and design business and just like the potential client (in whatever industry: heathcare, technology, hospitality, etc.) we do not deliver goods or services for free. Then it is my job to help the potential client clarify and express why they want our services and what need they are looking to fill. If I can get him or her to articulate what they want to achieve I can suggest more than one way to achieve it – and show how I’ve done it for others. This usually does the trick.
In the rare case where the potential client says he already has someone who will submit work on “spec” I cheerfully say that the firm that works for free has correctly priced their services and far be it for me to argue. Often a little humor goes a long ways.
A professional businessperson knows that no business that works for free survives for very long and the client looking for freebies gets neither the best work nor the best results.